Sunday, August 12, 2007

Billy The Mime

A friend of mine likes mime. She's REALLY into it. This has piqued my interest.

About a year and a half ago I attended a performance of traditional miming for contemporary times by a class of theater students at Northwestern. It was kinda cool. Complete with a tuxedoed man holding up the introductory titles of each piece.

While I don't follow the miming world (is there still much of a "miming world" in popular performance art?) extensively, I do find intriguing the physically mimed gesticulating of other artists. And, occasionally, something slides my way that suggests I should go out and see this.

Word that this particular performer, Billy the Mime, would be in Chicago was just the thing. Mimes typically come off as cheesy, quaint, or just plain odd and uninteresting, even weird. Here was heralded an artist who took both his craft and his expression seriously.

Indeed, he challenges with serious, yet wildly entertaining work. In several pieces he offered Saturday night at the Lakeshore Theater on Broadway he provided a series of selections with meaning. These are thoughtful pieces. This is no child's play. Sex, drugs, rock and roll were all onstage, plainly for what they are. An exploartion of the dark recesses of humanity, but also our joys, our wonders, our funny foibles.

A remembrance of canibal Jeffery Dahmer was one work, for example. An entitlement, "A Day Called 9/11" contrasted a man who worked at the Twin Towers with a terrorist. "High School" led us through the sometimes silliness of the topic (bullying, gym class) then took a sudden turn to shootings. Perhaps most poignant was "The Abortion". In it, the worries of woman are exhibited emotionally so sincerely as to make you feel her pain.

Enabling the audience in identifying with the artist and what he wants to express are the real accomplishment of Billy's endeavor. He takes you through a story, drawing you into his world and helping you to feel what his characters do. It is an amazing feat to bring this about through only physical movement and sometimes minor assistance of props.

Wearing white shirt, black pants, and red shoes with occasional accents as an addition, Billy performs in traditional white face. The classical miming technique employed is impeccable and drawn upon in upbuilding a larger thematic storytelling, or occasionally just for comedic effect. His solo miming is generally accompanied by music which sets the right mood for the movement. This proves to be important in helping the piece along. It adds something. Though it is, perhaps not essential, it is valuable. That is not to say that the work would be better off without it (rather the opposite is true), but only that the message likely would still come through were sound absent. However, the soundscape's presence does serve to highlight those moments when silence breaks through. For it is, then, not quietude for it's own sake or because nothing better is available. Instead, this silence also proves a purpose in communicating something of the moment.

Billy remains speechless throughout the night's show of about 75 minutes or so. His works are introduced by poster board cards he holds up at the beginning of each individual presentation. Though the ink on them could be bolder, ideally, in order to read these titles more easily in anyplace beyond a small theater. But if this is the greatest complaint I have to offer, then it illustrates that it is an excellent show, indeed.

The price for this night's entertainment was a mere $15. Well worth every penny, particularly for a touring artist of this calaber. I only found it disappointing that not more of an audience took advantage of a unique offering of such quality in Chicago by attending. Could it have been the nice summer evening with other opportunities? Perhaps publicity was lacking? Or maybe no one likes mime? They shouldn't be scared. Indeed, they would likely be well pleased at what could be witnessed. Still the 40 or so who did show up were raving afterwards in the auditorium and halls. Hopefully next time he hits town word will spread and Chicago will come out to see what they are missing. Or catch him in New York upcoming at the Flea Theater if you can.

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